Friday, February 25, 2022

Show Stealer

I kept the ringing pliers oiled and now at last, three months later, we reached the end of the Avian Flu tunnel. DEFRA/APHA revoked the lockdown on 20 February, an overdue move that allowed a resumption of bird ringing in no-go areas introduced on 26 November 2021. 

The whole week we itched to go ringing but constant winds wouldn’t allow. And then today when I went to drop supplementary seed the wind in the hedgerow ride seemed bearable and workable. I phoned Andy who didn’t need much persuasion to head over to Cockerham. 

By 1030 we had nets up and for the next few hours began to catch birds. The wind at 10-12 mph was too strong for catching any of the 150+ Linnets in an open field but in the more sheltered ride we caught 20 birds of other species. These were species I’d been seeing but unable to catch for more than 3 months - 7 Chaffinch, 4 Reed Bunting, 3 Blackbird, 5 Blue Tit and 1 Brambling. 

The Brambling stole the show, a highly colourful and obvious second year male. 



Bramblings have been scarce in the North West this winter, this particular one my second only in what has been a mild if wet and windy time. During February, March and April any Bramblings we see are likely to have come from further south and now migrating to breeding areas in the forests of Northern Europe and further east into Russia. 


Two of the Blackbirds were of the “continental” type, second year males with typically pale scalloping on their breast feathers. 

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Other birds seen - Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, 4 Little Egret, 2 Skylark. 

It was good to get out today. Here’s hoping we have no more flockdowns that stop our vital work. 

More news, views and photos soon. 

Thursday, February 17, 2022

A Bad Case Of Wind

Storm Dudley is here, closely followed by Storm Eunice, the two courtesy of westerly gales  from the Atlantic Ocean. Thank you America, but don't send us any more, we have  plenty of wind generation from our UK politicians. 

Oh how we laughed when in Wales and at the first puffs of Dudley, a 2 megawatt 300 ft wind turbine fell over like a fading Welsh daffodil.   A two megawatt windmill is made of 260 tons of steel that require 300 tons of coking coal, all mined, transported and produced by hydrocarbons. A windmill could spin (but only on windy days) until it falls apart and not generate as much energy as that invested in building it. Some things never add up do they? 

Windless Turbines

Regulars will by now have guessed that bird ringing news is non-existent, waiting as I am for the weather to subside and for APHA/DEFRA to pull fingers from their collective backsides and allow us bird ringers to collect urgently needed data.  

There's little to report from this week's grey affairs. A trip with pal Andy to a new Linnet site down South and out of the 10Km zone centred on Pilling produced a whacking count of 500/600 Linnets and permission from the farmer to catch said birds whenever we liked. We explained that time is of the essence and that as early as 1st March many Linnets will be heading back from whence they came.  Andy followed up a day or two later by cutting rides through the seed plot for the day that warming sun-spots might allow us a visit. 

The day we visited there was a Kestrel targeting the field, perhaps not entirely for the Linnets which move pretty fast at the sight of any raptor. More likely is that the Kestrel sat motionless in the tree was on the lookout for mice and voles. 


Farmer P showed us the Barn Owl's barn and then pointed us in the further direction of low buildings where Swallows and even Little Owls return year after year. 

Barn Owl

Little Owl

Mr P shared our view that the cold spring of 2021 had resulted in less Swallows than normal but agreed that Spring 2022 could hardly be colder and more unsuitable for insect eating Swallows than the last.  

This is a traditional farmyard with oily rags and rusty tractors where the daily traffic of cattle plus gallons of now standing rainwater creates an insect rich sludgy mess irresistible to wagtails.  Two or three Pied Wagtails and a single Grey Wagtail flitted around the yard, not minding our close proximity when so much food was on offer. 

Pied Wagtail


A winter farm hereabouts pretty much guarantees Pied Wagtails will be around with the occasional bonus of a Grey Wagtail. As an early breeding species the Grey Wagtail will likely head off in March whereas Pied Wagtails will nest on the farm in more than one or two pairs.    

Grey Wagtail

Even now I’m reading of bird watchers, probably new to the game, who confuse Grey Wagtail with Yellow Wagtail. But while Grey Wagtails are present all year round in the UK, Yellow Wagtails spend the winter in deep Africa and not the cold wet windy days of Lancashire.   

There's a reminder here here of the differences in the two species. 

Back soon we hope. Stay tuned.

Linking today with Eileen's Saturday Blog and Anni in Texas.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022


We may have been prevented from ringing for over two months but there are still Linnets in circulation from earlier catches, birds that at later dates might deliver all manner of information. We received notification of one such individual. 

It was 12 September 2021 along the Pilling/Cockerham coast that I ringed Linnet number AKN3729 as a juvenile/first autumn male. This was one of 7 Linnets caught that morning before I signed off for a two week holiday to Sunny Greece.  

A few months later Linnet AKN3729 was recaptured on 30 January 2022, inland and almost due south at Fogg's Farm, Antrobus, Cheshire by members of Merseyside Ring Group; they were able to work their Fogg’s Farm site as normal while our own ringing was stalled because of avian flu. 

Linnet - Cockerham, Lancashire - Antrobus, Cheshire


Juvenile Linnets are known to disperse in a south and south westerly direction during the autumn period, some as far as France and Spain. We have no further sighting of AKN3792 so both its origins and eventual destination are unknown but the bird remains in circulation to provide more clues should it be found again.  

Another recovery was more predictable – that of one of our ringed birds taken by a domestic cat. 

A young female Greenfinch Ring number NF87535 ringed at Cockerham on 15 October 2021 was found freshly dead, taken by a cat, just 18 kms away, at Staining, Blackpool on 4 February 2022. 

Wonderly’s photo, “Caught by Cats,” recently won first place in the 2020 Big Picture Natural World Photography Competition’s Human/Nature category. His image highlights a grim picture. 

The photo would need to be multiplied 10 million times to come close to showing the billions of animals killed by cats each year. 

A 2013 study estimated free-ranging domestic cats kill between 1.3 and 4 billion birds - on top of between 6.2 and 22.3 billion mammals every year in the United States alone, the majority by feral or unowned cats. 

Figures released by the Mammal Society show the UK's estimates for domestic cat kills to be equally shocking: around 100 million prey items between Spring and Summer, of which 27 million were birds - and that’s not counting the creatures the cats didn't bring home. 

But, according to the UK Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), there is no scientific evidence to link cats to bird population decline in the UK. I for one do not believe that, perhaps because RSPB members are also likely to be cat lovers? 

The message is simple. Cat Lovers should not let their cat roam in the countryside, even in their own or neighbours’ garden where birds may feed. 

And do not feed feral cats. Such kindness may be doing more harm than good. 

Linking today to Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


Friday, February 4, 2022

A Linnet Record But No Ringing

Months had passed since my last Barn Owl; maybe I’m not getting out enough or hitting the wrong spots? The lack of sightings was rectified on Friday by an encounter out Stalmine way as I drove across the elevated moss road towards Out Rawcliffe and a farm I know. 

Barn Owl 
There was some noise and activity from small birds, Tree Sparrows and Chaffinches, and a Blackbird alarm call as a Sparrowhawk shot through the jumble of buildings and out the other side. It’s impossible not to admire how Sparrowhawks hunt by the element of surprise, taking small birds in an instant with their gangling legs and razor sharp talons. During the catching and ringing of a Sparrowhawk it’s essential to know how quickly the hawk can pierce fingers. 

Although the weather has been mainly wet and cold we’ve had very few frosts so it’s good to see the sheep bang on cue with their first lambs, the one below just a day or two old. 

Spring Lamb

I drove towards Pilling and Cockerham to mainly check out the set-aside ringing station that’s out of action for ringing purposes but not for additional feeding. There are still lots of birds and even an increase in the usual pack of Linnets today with three separate flocks totalling in excess of 450, a record count for this winter. I scattered another bucketful of seed in the net rides and left the birds to pick the winners.  

There has been snow in the hills not far away and also in Scotland, both of which provide numbers of our wintering Linnets here on the relatively warmer Gulf-streamed coast. If only we could have ringed a more Linnets in the last two months; for sure many will be back to Scotland very soon. 

I noted the usual Kestrel, 20 or more Chaffinches, Greenfinches and also a couple of fence hopping Meadow Pipits. Meadow Pipits have been absent of late but this too is a species subject to moving south and west during colder weather. In just three to four weeks the longer distance migrants will pass through as they head back to the uplands and their breeding areas. 


Meadow Pipit

I stopped to chat to a couple of wildfowlers, the chaps incredulous that our ringing is still not allowed while their own pastime is unaffected by the same 10km control zone. One told of an hour or more before seeing on the marsh a Shelduck in distress that he could have reached but did not want to handle for fear of Avian Flu.  Neither would he be allowed to put the duck out of its possible misery. He'd also seen a Marsh Harrier, possibly two, out on Pilling Marsh. 

I have no problem with wildfowlers and their pastime. Wildfowling is an ancient feature of the countryside, one that arose long before the relatively modern sports of bird watching or twitching. Almost without exception I find wildfowlers are knowledgeable about birds simply because many are involved in active habitat conservation and improvement. 

As regular readers will know from this blog and other reading, there is a real distinction between “wildfowlers” and “shooters”. My opposition to the rearing of millions of wildfowl and game birds for driven shoots and its effect on the countryside features here on a regular basis; some might say too often! 

I drove up to Cockerham and a pootle around the lanes where the well scattered winter swans remain the major attraction pending springtime. Twelve Bewick’s Swans, over 300 Whooper Swans and uncounted Mutes are still impressive even though after spending four months in the same fields they keep a distance from birders in cars and birders out of cars. 

Whoopers and Mute
I stopped at Gulf Lane and the other seed plot - another 80+ Linnets. Blimey! 

And I am still waiting for a reply to the request for an exemption to local restrictions so as to catch and ring a Red-listed, declining species of farmland bird.

Linking today with Eileen's Blogspot and Anni in Texas.


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